Chicken mangosteen curry, papaya salad, soft-shell crabs–Thai cuisine reworked for the Filipino palate
While researching on Thai cuisine in Bangkok, executive chef Cheryl Pineda observed that the locals liked to mix their viands and chicken with mangosteen.
That inspired her to create her version of the chicken mangosteen curry. The extract of the mangosteen’s purple rind is infused in the curry sauce. This gives the chicken mangosteen curry a refreshing taste yet remaining potent with antioxidants.
It has since become a bestseller at Celadon, the only Thai restaurant at Power Plant Mall, Rockwell.
The place is packed with diners who seek exotic Asian food without the intense heat. The repertoire is comfort Thai food: skewered meats, hot shrimp soup tainted with lime, stir-fried rice noodles and curries.
It also includes a best-selling Indian appetizer, roti, a steaming, soft flatbread served with curry sauce and diced shrimp.
Trained at the Brisbane Culinary Institute in Australia, Pineda has mastered a wide range of cuisines, from Mediterranean to Southeast Asian. She says that while many Thai restaurants stick to traditional cookery, Celadon uses modern cooking techniques, revolving around the core ingredients of basil, fish sauce, coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and other herbs.
Celadon’s classic chicken satay is set off by the flavorful peanut sauce and a relish of cucumber, pepper and onion. To moisten the meat so that it melts in the palate, fresh coconut sauce is mixed in the marinade.
The papaya salad is a colorful toss of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, string beans, shrimps and nuts, crowned with nutty, brown pork flakes. The native garlic from Ilocos gives it a kick. Its biting aroma blends with the lime and shallots.
Pineda reveals that “healing priest” Fr. Fernando Suarez likes the salad with catfish. In Bangkok, the salad has a fiery curry sauce. Her version is delicate catfish stir-fried with holy basil, galanggal, chili, flavor-packed Thai herbs and lime for tartness.
Celadon uses crabs from Vietnam. The golden, crisp soft-shell crabs are served with black pepper sauce. Once the pepper is cooked, it dissipates into a subtle aroma that complements the sweetish-sour taste of the tamarind in the sauce.
The viands go with the pineapple rice which is a whole meal in itself. It is a mixture of fried jasmine rice with chunks of shrimps, squid, raisins, cashews for the crunch and pineapple for the sweetness. It is again topped with pork flakes.
The pad Thai is that most familiar Thai noodle dish. The noodles are subtly sweet, mixed with moist meat and bean sprouts for texture. The pad sew ew (pronounced see yoo), meanwhile, has wide, flat, soy sauce-flavored noodles. Celadon’s beef pad sew ew is a soothing noodle dish topped with strips of marinated tender beef, chicken and seafood and bok choy. Sesame seeds add aroma.
As a gastronomic solution to the humid weather, the khanon jeen, a traditional Thai brunch dish, is rendered light. The thin, fermented rice noodles are topped with blanched vegetables—almost like a salad—plus beef, pork or chicken.
For meat lovers, the pork curry is also light compared with other versions. The pork is grilled and sweetened with pineapple and enlivened with yellow curry sauce.
For vegetarians and dieters, the fresh spring rolls, made of julienned carrots, sugar beets and cucumber and wrapped in translucent rice paper, are a guilt-free option. The sauce, a concoction of sweet peanut purée enlivened by warm, peppery turmeric and curry powder, is a rich and intense foil to the clean taste of the raw vegetables.
There’s also the vegetarian pad Thai tossed in tofu and bean sprouts. The tastebuds get a kick from the mild and tasty shallots that play against the sharp taste of the chives. It goes well with bok choy and sautéed mushrooms dish.
In desserts, Pineda is equally uncompromising. For the mango tapioca pearl pudding, Celadon imports the tapioca pearls from Bangkok because of their firmness. They are infused with pandan or screwpine leaves for a delicate aroma.
If you want a hearty ending, the warmth of the caramelized banana fritters, generously sprinkled with sesame seeds, contrasts with the coolness of homemade coconut ice cream, made with whole milk and pure coconut.
Filipinos accustomed to salty and sweet dishes have come to enjoy Thai cuisine, which is known for its incendiary spiciness. Celadon can either turn up or turn down the fiery blasts of the dishes upon the customer’s request. The chef has successfully found a formula that offers subtle, fruity and universally accepted flavors.
Co-owner Ching Cruz is hands-on in overseeing the operations. She makes sure the ingredients are fresh and are of the best quality, and oversees the resto’s excellent standards of service.
PHOTOS BY NELSON MATAWARAN